InDreams directedby Neil Jordan
NeilJordan knows what the screen is for. That's unusual for an artist who beganin literature, but right for one who used words to evoke feelings and images.His new movie In Dreams overflows with sights that suggest an artisthas opened up his subconscious for public display. This is not a gift to betaken lightly. Here in the digital age, technology has rendered most movie imageryunmemorable and inexpressive (you've every right to dread What DreamsMay Come). But Jordan's artistic integrity constantly goes for themythic.
As critic Gregory Solmanwrote, this plot is "unworthy" of Jordan's talents, and yet InDreams is not an example of impersonal hack work. His intelligence is stillevident in this lighter vein (as Orson Welles' was in The Stranger)and a real movie lover is compelled to point this out. It stands in contradistinctionto the fake cinematic extravagance of frivolous or bludgeoning movies. Jordangives In Dreams an uncanny, dreamlike pace. He seems to be rifling throughthe plot, finding the exalted image, the indelible hue or evocative compositional value to make it something more than formulaic. In Saturday night terms In Dreams might be less efficient than I Know What You Did Last Summeror The Faculty; those movies attempt little, their essence beingtied to manipulative plotting and easy scares. Jordan essays something subtler,more suggestive and lasting. From the opening scene of water rushing througha church vestibule toward the viewer, images come with startling immediacy.At the moment you register their exact symbolism, their lushness is overwhelming.More epiphanies unfurl: during the sequence of a worried mother searching forher daughter amid the costumed children of a school pageant; a woman escapingan asylum and finding herself in the middle of highway collisions at night;a boy swimming out of a flooded house to discover his entire town submerged;and the same child perched on a steeple?the highest point in town?whilerescue boats motor by on the newly created lake. Each of these moments (andmany others) rates applause?and wonder. They enhance the screen, as didsimilar sequences in Minnelli's Meet Me in St. Louis, Boorman'sDeliverance, Kubrick's The Shining and Altman's TheGingerbread Man. Jordan rises to that class of imaginative fantasy, turningthe medium's ability to capture human experience into extraordinary manifestations.It helps that Annette Bening as Clair, the distraught woman psychically alarmedfor her husband and daughter's safety, and Robert Downey Jr. as Vivian,the killer avenging his abused childhood, have charismatic faces. Both are emphaticwithout being conventionally attractive?a subliminal avidity that suggeststhey belong together as psychic twins. Through them, Jordan seems to have channeledsome substantive and affecting mental efflorescence. Dreams mix with memoriesand premonitions in the thickest profusion of dread, sadness and regret sinceDon't Look Now. Such scenes as Clair, catapultedby grief, driving a car through a fence into a river or sensing Vivian'sprison break and then following his path, step-by-intuited-step, occur in calmlymeasured strokes. Jordan, editor Tony Lawson and superb cinematographer DariusKhondji match two characters' pain through visual rhythm, achieving compassion(whereas in Don't Look Now Nicolas Roeg went for the creeps). Thesesequences are genuinely, fully imagined?not like the facile quick-cuttingof Michael Bay or David Fincher?yet they don't seem fully dramatized.This problem points to the script (by Jordan and Bruce Robinson) being a too-commercialblueprint. After the initial, superficialthought that this was another of the misbegotten Neil-Jordan-in-Hollywood movieslike Interview with a Vampire (as opposed to his stronger British-madefilms), scenes from In Dreams left a sweet taste in my brain. Its schoolpageant scene, with gossamer-winged child fairies, an intense police hunt inthe woods and the climactic predator-trickster scenes with Clair, Vivian anda kidnapped girl in an overflowing apple cider mill, all recalled Jordan'sfirst great movie A Company of Wolves. That successful combination ofhigh art philology and accessible generic storyline (Little Red Riding Hood)was key to Jordan's distinctive artistry. He uses pop myths to explorepsychological complexity, which may be why Patrick McCabe's surrealistnovel The Butcher Boy was the basis for Jordan's most criticallyacclaimed film (it provided the mythic link to Jordan's other fascination?Irishfamily heritage). What In Dreams lacks,besides the old sod, is a clearer explanation of Clair's relation to Vivian.Jordan zips by the child Vivian's desperate need for fantasy as the linkto Clair's profession as author and illustrator of children's storybooks.(Their sexual dysfunction is obviously paired.) The movie seems preoccupiedwith hocus-pocus when Jordan, at his best, unleashes the subconscious phantomswrought by culture and parentage (Vivian's abused childhood and the floodingof his hometown by municipal edict are barely dramatized). Like Antonio Banderas in Interview, the final scenes of Vivian's self-torment achievean unsettling pity?the emotion always underlying Jordan's wonderment.As a companion piece to The Butcher Boy and A Company of Wolves,Clair's fated pas de deux with Vivian shows Jordan combining literaryand cinematic devices with contemporary horror in an attempt to expurgate society'sinner monsters. But being less socially/politically grounded than the tale ofpsychic twins in De Palma's magnificent The Fury, In Dreams'delirious high style wobbles on a sketchy premise. So while In Dreamsjoins the ranks of Jordan's most ruinously flawed movies High Spirits,We're No Angels and Interview with a Vampire, it's stillan impressive eyeful of cinema.